Salmon Fishing: How To Start
A comprehensive no-nonsense guide to starting out as a salmon fisherman
So you want to get into salmon fishing but don’t know where to start? Hopefully this guide will help. This is a simple guide to help you get started. I’ve based the knowledge in this article on 16 years as a professional salmon fishing guide throughout Scotland.
It can be daunting starting out, where to go, what equipment to use, how to read a river, How to fish for salmon, what is the river etiquette? What Spey casts to use? How much do I tip the Ghillie? The insights are here, please read on:
Let’s break his down into a step by step guide, beginning with:
Tactics for fishing for salmon
The first thing to understand is that salmon do not feed when they enter freshwater. They have two things programmed in their brain, reproduction and survival.
Why a salmon takes a fly nobody really can be certain. It’s thought to be a combination of aggression, curiosity and a conditioned response from when they fed in saltwater.
Make no mistake, salmon fishing is a dark art. You need resilience as blank days are frequent, and determination to keep moving your flies through the pools with method, focus and a clear strategy. Usually you would cast your fly down and across and try to keep a steady swing on the fly, letting the current do the work. As you work through a pool, imagine you are playing battleships and your prospecting all the spots. Work through the pool by casting and then taking a step downstream.
My best advice is listen to the experts, when you arrive at a river, speak to the ghillie, his advice is invaluable. Remember he lives and breathes his beat of the river, knows where the salmon lies are and importantly at what water level where to fish. Ask him also what tip to add to your fly line (sink rate or floater) and what fly. If you’re a beginner, get him to show you the correct knot for the fly. I recommend a double turle, for salmon fly in doubles (two hooks). Most of all keep it simple, persistence beats resistance and don’t overcomplicate your casting or try too hard to reach that extra few feet. Often fish can be a rod length or two away. Don’t make too much disturbance when wading.
What equipment to use for salmon fishing in Scotland?
Most rivers in Scotland are fly fishing only, and some allow spinning like the Tay and the Tweed. The sensible thing to do is to ask yourself, do I want to fish one of the big rivers? The Tay, The Dee, Spey and Tweed? Or a smaller spate river, like the Ericht, Orchy or Alness.
Salmon Fishing Equipment for Big 4 rivers – River Spey, Tay, Dee and Tweed
A 14ft or 15ft Fly rod, is a perfect size to cover a big river, don’t go any smaller, because if you get into a big fish, you’ll struggle to control it. You don’t need to spend the earth, a Shakespeare Oracle Scandi 15ft rod will set you back £120.00 on Amazon and its a pretty decent rod, certainly good enough for a beginner to enjoy learning the fundamentals. The Scandi version is my pick (there are other Shakespeare Oracles) is that Scandi (short Spey) lines are easier to cast for beginners.
If you’re looking for a robust, great value salmon reel, the Vision Deep ticks many boxes. It will set you back about £80.00 can take a battering, has a decent drag and great line capacity. It does what it says on the tin.
So what salmon fly line is best for a beginner? If your setting out, do not use a long head Spey line, i.e. 65ft, opt for a Short head Spey line. These are easier to cast and I can tell you that in my years as a guide I have got literally thousands of people casting lines like this good enough to cover fish in under 30 minutes of tuition. You cannot go wrong with an Airflo Rage Shooting head kit. For £79 this gives you a running line/ short spey line and tips, floater, intermediate and sink tip. This will cover most scenarios and this is an extremely easy line to cast. If you’ve heard about lines called Scandi or Skagit, then this line sits somewhere in between. Take it from me, it’s easy to cast, and hugely versatile.
So there you have it. A complete, fly rod, reel and line for £280.00.
Spate rivers: If you are looking at fishing smaller rivers, then use similar equipment to above but come down to an 11ft 8 weight. This will help you fish in tighter spaces and still give you enough clout to play a bigger multi-wintered fish.
Tippet. Go for Maxima (or Fulling Mill’s New Masterclass). 15lb for bigger rivers and 10lb for the spate rivers. This line is reliable and tried and tested. It stretches when a fish lunges on a run, and it comes in two colours. Chameleon for peat stained water and Ultragreen for clearer rivers.
What are the best value waders for salmon fishing?
Waders are an item you should be careful when buying. Many people buy cheap and pay the price.. many people buy expensive and pay the price too. I cannot see past the Orvis Clearwater waders, they offer excellent value for money, and I would recommend trying them on with thickish socks and wading boots. Make sure you try bending down and standing up and all legs movements are easy and unrestricted. Get the Orvis Clearwater wading boots too, they are superb value, the waders and boots will set you back £368.00 but often Orvis offer deals and discounts, don’t be afraid to contact your local store and ask. If you can afford an extra £35 buy the Posi-Grip tungsten studs, this will give you superb grip when wading.
So in summary, £650.00 will get you properly set up, and enable you to be tooled up for a day on the river. (Excluding flies and nylon tippet)
Which river in Scotland is best for salmon fishing for beginners?
This depends where you live, but make sure you select a beat with a good Ghillie, preferably one who holds a casting qualification like SGAIC and therefore can give casting tips and tuition. If you want a more dedicated (one on one) guide for the day, then pay the extra and get a good one. You can meet the guide at the river, use your own gear and he or she can take you through the fundamentals and various casts. This can be invaluable in the beginning, so bad habits don’t set in.
The River Tay at Fishponds is one such beat, a gem of a Ghillie in Iain Kirk, a casting instructor and rod designer for Mackenzie Fly Rods, he’s always willing to help. Its good water for learning and relatively inexpensive in the earlier parts of the season (spring and summer)
Whilst were on the subject of ghillies and guides, it’s customary to tip them. This is the right thing to do and as a general guide, anything from £20-£50 depending on the day you’ve had is the norm. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but if you don’t give them a “handshake” don’t expect a warm welcome next time or any worthwhile help. Ghillies never forget!
What if I want to try salmon fishing before buying all the gear?
Rather than but all the gear and then discover its not for you…you may want to consider hiring a guiding company for your first trip. They will provide you with quality fishing tackle, waders, boots, life vest and rain jacket. This will set you back approx £375.00 for a full day including dedicated guide with you all day, permit, tackle and VAT. Our team of professional fishing guides include SGAIC casting instructors, so if you want to try various combinations fo rods and lines and learn various Spey casts, we can help.
Stewart Collingswood, Orvis Endorsed Guide/ founder Alba Game Fishing Ltd